Oklahoma Has Millions In Unspent Homeland Security Funds

Monday, July 9th 2007, 8:34 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma has about $45 million in unspent homeland security funds waiting in the U.S. Treasury, which some say underscores the need for tighter controls over federal homeland security grants.

But the amount of unspent money doesn't alarm or surprise Kerry Pettingill, director of the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security.

``I'm not worried about it because we're within timelines,'' he said.

Pettingill said the grant money some have described as ``unspent'' does not have to be spent yet.

``Every grant has a term, a timetable of expenditure,'' he said. ``They're usually 36-month grants. A 2005 grant isn't due until 2008.''

Pettingill said authorities have plans for all the $126 million allocated to the state through his office since 2002, but the money can't be spent until the desired products or services are completed.

``We have all our money tied up in big projects,'' he said. ``We're looking at multi-year projects.''

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, has fought for additional audits to ensure homeland security grants are not wasted, spokesman Aaron Cooper said.

``The fact there may be 'unspent' money from previous grant years is proof of the need for more oversight of the granting process,'' Cooper said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security only has nine auditors to oversee more than 80 grant programs, so he said there ``clearly'' is not enough oversight.

Pettingill said he doesn't have any problem with the time-consuming process to award and administer homeland security grants.

``That's the way the system works,'' he said. ``If you're going to do it right, it's going to take a little bit of time.''

Pettingill estimated more than a quarter of the $45 million in funding for Oklahoma in the U.S. Treasury is tied up in a communications project that will allow emergency officials from across the state to talk to each other in times of crisis.

Oklahoma also has focused on other large-scale projects such as creating a regional response system, increasing security for potential terror targets and establishing a fusion center to help law enforcement officials sort through intelligence information, he said.

Once those projects are complete, Pettingill said states likely will need homeland security funding in perpetuity to maintain them.